The Way Things Had Been

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“He’s dead, Mother. Has been for two weeks. He can’t touch­ us any more. Never again. We have to put it all behind us. It is­ going to be hard. But it is either that or go mad.”

“Put it behind us? Don’t be a fool. Put twenty-five years­ of hell away - it’s not possible. Especially when each day we­ have to pretend we don’t notice the averted looks of our­ neighbours. When we never get served in a shop until they can’t ­help doing so. When all the while they are whispering about us.­ Pointing us out. The wife and daughter of Tom Arnold. Saying we­ must have had a hand in it. Must have been part of what they were doing.”

The woman in the chair shook with the intensity of her­ emotions as she shouted the words. The daughter shook her head­ dumbly, stubbornly.

“If we don’t then we are condemning ourselves to the same­ hell he kept us in. He will have won because we are unable to­ walk out of our prison even though the door is standing open.”

She got up and walked across the tiny lounge. Without really­ thinking about it she pulled the curtain back. Looked out into­ the street. A tiny, mirthless smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. “Remember the sermon that was preached last Sunday?”

“No. I gave up listening to the sermons Rev. Soames preaches.­ They all seemed to be directed at us.”

“Oh, I think he was doing the same last Sunday. But he is­ trying to help. That’s why he preached on the good coming out of­ evil.”

The older woman sagged back in her chair. The brief flash of­ anger burnt away. “Good - out of what we have been through? Are­ still going through?” Her face twisted in a grimace that was no­ smile. “Have you had a good look at yourself - or me ? Compare us­ with ordinary people in the streets. I am forty-six. My hair is white. I look and act like a woman of sixty. I am useless. Burnt­ out. And you, May?”

She saw her daughter’s hand twist the cloth of the curtain.­ The mother’s face softened - her voice was gentle.

“Take a look at yourself. When did you ever have a decent­ dress to wear? Have you ever had your hair done? Do you think­ that it is attractive hanging lank, straw-like around your face.­ Or is it that you, like me, don’t care?Want to avoid looking­ attractive - just in case they....”

The mother shook her head in frustration. “For years he­ treated you as a drudge - and you acted and may even think like­ one. Yet you are only twenty-three. Only once did you have a­ break. When he and I - went away that time. You had more than six months. I expected you to run away. But you couldn’t - could you?­ You had no more fight in you than I did.”

“I nearly did. But...”

The mother did not hear her. She was lost in almost­ forgotten years. Eyes clouded. “I was only twenty when I met him.­ I was sitting on a bench in the park - eating my lunch...”


He was slim and polished. Dressed as fashion then dictated ­in flannels, blazer, straw boater and a cane. Insolent eyes in a­ white face. Thin lips under a pencil line moustache. He ignored­ the empty benches and walked straight over to where the pretty­ girl sat.

“May I share this bench with you, ?” he asked with a little­ bow.

She coloured under his bold appraisal. “Yes, yes, of course.­ I was just about to go any way.”

“Oh, you can’t do that. If you did I would think that I had­ driven you away. And I could never forgive myself for that.”

She was shy and innocent. No match for the practised­ charmer. In the weeks that followed he swept her round a whirl of­ parties, dinners and shows. All the while probing, suggesting.­ Playing with her emotions. But he could not overcome the­ restraints of a strict upbringing and her own strength of­ character.

He should, of course, have dropped her when he failed to ­seduce her. Gone on to look for easier conquests. She held out­ nothing for him. No money - only the excitement of her lush body.­ The challenge of her refusal. The urge of his desire and need to­ break her resistance and to have her.

So he married her.

His charm and mask never lasted the brief honeymoon. All the­ dream castles, tentatively built in her mind, were demolished one­ night. He had been gone the whole day - and not said where he had­ been. Now he sat in a nearby chair watching her brushing her hair­ as she prepared for bed. She saw his eyes in the mirror of the dressing table. Eyes which held a curious look that frightened­ her.

“I want your jewels, my sweet.”

She hadn’t turned around. Just watched his reflection in the­ mirror. “I don’t understand. What do you want with my jewels? I­ only have the ring you gave me and the few things my mother left­ me.”

His thin lips twisted into strange shapes. “You can keep the­ ring. But I want the rest of the stuff.”


“To sell them, my dear. To sell them.”

“Sell my mother’s jewels?” she said stupidly.

“Right. The hotel will expect to be paid and I will need­ quite a lot for the races tomorrow.”

“I still don’t understand. You told me that you were well­ off. That you had a good job at the bank. That you...”

His shout of laughter cut her short. “You silly, gullible­ fool. I could not believe it that you would swallow my tales so­ easily. I have no job - call me self employed. And my work is­ parting the fool from his money. Which is very easy.”

She nearly fainted then and her breasts heaved beneath the­ flimsy covering of her nightdress. “You mean that you are a - are­ a....”

“Are you looking for the word crook ? Some call me that.­ Some call me a swindler - because they lost money when they­ thought that they had more brains than I. Some call me a con man­ because I take their money when they expected to take mine. But I­ call myself a financier - because I deal with other people’s­ money - and my wife’s jewels.” And his jeering laugh was the last­ thing she heard as she slid to the floor in a faint.

She stayed with him in the time that followed - as the hell­ grew each day. Stayed with him because there was no place else to ­go and her own code of marriage kept her at his side. Stayed and­ put up a pretence that fooled no one - not even herself.

And then the baby came - the result of those nights that she­ had to endure. Maybe that was why she turned herself into the­ sort of woman who no longer excited him. A woman he no longer­ needed as a woman. A woman who he could not use in his schemes of­ self enrichment.

Why he remained with her was a mystery only understood in­ some dark chamber of hell. But he did. Using the mother and the­ daughter as mere house drudges to cater for his comfort.

Now he was gone...


The woman in the chair turned her eyes to the girl­ by the window. "Do you remember the first day that he brought­ Nelson here ?” she asked.

Her daughter nodded. "I remember.”

“Strange to think that that was the beginning of the end of­ things. The last of the old life.” She laughed - if such a­ brittle sound could be called a laugh. “Peter Nelson. In four­ months he was to change all our lives. Something we never­ suspected then.”

In fact they thought it would merely be a little worse that day, as­ they faced the two grinning men. Styles had changed and the­ husband’s outward trappings had changed with them. But he still­ bore the hungering look of the parasite. Her time taught eyes saw­ the same mark on the other man.

“Come in Peter. Meet the family. The reason for my daily­ toils. This charming hag is my wife. And that lump in the corner­ is not the kitchen skivvy but my daughter. Product of my loins­ and my wife’s labour.”

Both men had laughed. “Of course,” he went on. “My daughter­ performs the same duties as a kitchen skivvy so please get her to­ clean your shoes or any other similar chore. We must fill her­ day, mustn’t we ?”

Partners they became - working together to fleece the ­gullible fools of their world. Sharing a dream of pulling off a­ big coup. A major scam that would put them in the big time. In­ the nature of their kind they never fully trusted each other.­ But they needed the other to bolster that dream - to help build­ the dream - and then to put it into operation.

Pulling off a major scam was more than a dream for Tom­ Arnold. The dream had become an obsession. Something that kept­ him going though the days he had to endure reality. He had lived­ on the fringes of crime for a long time. It had brought him in­ good enough money - but never enough to put him on easy street.­ Never big enough so that he cut adrift from the mean life he­ lived - to enable him to venture into the realms of the really­ big stuff. He knew it would come. So much so that he kept an­ inviolate money reserve that was to finance the scam. Bring the­ dream to life. Free him from the house of his drudges and open­ the world for his feasting. Europe - America.

And finally they had it. The coup that was to set them up.­ It would cost money to put it into operation but -“the more you­ spend to set up the scam the more the fools will cough up.” That­ was their wisdom. That was their creed. And Tom had the money - ­the money that was his key to a new life.

They came home that day in high good humour. Peter paid mock­ court to mother and daughter while Tom went to get the cash he­ had stashed away for just such an occasion. Two thousand pounds.­ Two thousand pounds which would fund the scam and free him of­ this life. Free him even of the partner that he needed now - but­ not later when the score was made.

Tom went out eagerly - full of bounce. The dream tasting­ sweet in his brain already. Went to the cache of cash.

He had come back to the tiny lounge slowly - listened­ outside the door as Peter insulted mother and daughter. Then he­ had entered. Peter turned around and laughed.

“And now the cubbyhole is bare.”

Just a chance remark. And only a twisted, distorted,­ obsessed mind could turn it into anything else. But the money had­ been secreted in a cubbyhole in his den - and the cubbyhole was­ really bare.

The money had gone.

“You bastard - you took it. You robbed me. Your own­ partner.” And he had lifted gun which had also been secreted­ there and pumped bullet after bullet into the thing that had once­ been Peter Nelson.

He had only stopped shooting when the gun was empty. He made­ no attempt to get away. The loss of his golden dream had finished­ him. He had even sat silent - mute - in Court. And two weeks ago,­ before sentence was passed, he had hung himself in his cell.

The pictures passed in rapid progression through the­ mother’s mind. “I wonder when Peter took the money ?” she mused.­ “I never thought he had a chance to do so.”

Her daughter turned her head to face into the room. “He­ didn’t - not really. I did.”

There was a tangible silence in the room. Even the tick of­ the clock sounded muffled. The mother appeared to have stopped­ breathing. Only her eyes moved as she watched her daughter.

And the daughter turned her head once more and looked,­ unseeingly, out of the window. “It happened during the time you­ were away with - with him. I was thinking of running away. Even­ started making something - someone of myself. Preparing. Instead­ I met Ted. Also in the park. He was no one special. Just an ordinary man. But he said he loved me. Loved me. He was wonderful­ and I did not have the strength or the desire to resist him. I­ wanted him as much as he wanted me.

“He would have married me. Really he would have done. But he­ was killed in a motor car accident. He left me enough money to­ get away from here. Two things stopped me. I couldn’t go and­ leave you here alone - with him. And I was pregnant. I couldn’t­ run with a baby as well - nor could I bring it up here in this­ house - with him. So I had it aborted. And cried as I have never­ ever cried before. My baby.”

She moved away from the window. “I had been a fool. Took no ­real precautions - even gave my real name to the - the place­ where it was done. Somehow a man got hold of those records with­ my name. And the demands started just under a year ago.”


“Yes - blackmail.”

“You didn’t pay, did you?”

“Yes, I paid. I knew just what that man would do to us if he­ ever found out about my - lapse. Our lives were a hell enough -­ and I knew where he had hidden his money. Skivvies do know these­ things. So I took it. I never thought he would ever be in a­ position where he would get a chance to need the money himself.­ He was just a small time crook. I paid nearly all of it away over­ these past months.”

“You fool. Once you pay they always come back. You are never­ free. Not normally - but you are lucky. Now you can tell whoever­ it is that it is all finished. There is no need for you to go on­ paying any more”

“You are right. I need never pay blackmail again. But not­ for the reason you are thinking. He will not come back anyway.”

The mother looked at her daughter with an odd look in her­ face. “Did you know who it was?”

“Yes.” The smile on the daughter’s face was nearly sweet­ now. “It was Peter Nelson.”

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